Student Spotlight: Raaz dancer Nivi Nagaraj ’16

by Nalini Ramanathan | 2/8/16 6:01pm

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Navi Nagaraj '16, middle, stands with her fellow Raaz dancers, in costume.

From her work as a volunteer “baby-cuddler” at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center to her job at the Dartmouth Biomedical Engineering Center to her 5 p.m. sunset runs in Pine Park, Nivedita “Nivi” Nagaraj ’16 has many roles at Dartmouth.

Her role as president of Raaz, Dartmouth’s only South Asian fusion dance team, however is one of her favorites. The group’s performances combine more modern Indian styles of Bhangra and Bollywood with classical styles of Indian dance such as Bharatanatyam and even modern American styles such as jazz.

Started in 2011, Raaz was created as a more selective alternative to Vandana, another group at the time which was open to all and mainly focused on Bollywood styles. A completely student-run group, the members of Raaz come from various dancing backgrounds, ranging from Bollywood to Indian classical dance. Although all the members are currently female, it is open to all genders, Nagaraj said.

Nagaraj began her dancing career in first grade in Rochester Hills, Michigan when she took Bharatanatyam with her best friend. She continued for seven years, but quit once she started high school due to other commitments. She then joined a local South Asian fusion dance team, which focused mainly on Bollywood and Bhangra, and fell in love with the style.

Looking for a similar experience at Dartmouth, Nagaraj joined the group her freshman year. By her junior year, Nagaraj was team president.

The team’s dance routines are typically choreographed by one or two people. Nagaraj’s specialty is classical Indian dance, but she notes that she often asks other people for input if she gets stuck or wants to incorporate more of a Bollywood flavor to her routines.

Teammate Shinar Jain ’18 said that Nagaraj’s choreography is very creative, but that it is her optimism and energy that really shapes her choreography and her dancing.

“The thing I see most in her choreography is this really powerful energy,” Jain said. “I think she brings so much optimism to Raaz itself, and I think you can see that when she dances and when she choreographs songs for us.”

One of Nagaraj’s favorite quality of the team is its sense of community, one that has particularly developed since her junior year. Team bonding activities vary from late evenings spent studying to nights spent watching Bollywood movies and eating take-out from Jewel of India.

“It’s the closest thing I have to a family on campus,” Nagaraj said. “Dance is a great way to pull people together.”

For Nagaraj, community is also a central part of dance.

“I like dancing wherever my team’s at, or wherever there are people around,” she said.

Many of her teammates attribute this sense of community to Nagaraj herself.

“She’s been really great in pushing all of us to be our best selves and our best dancers,” says teammate Abhilasha Gokulan ’18. “She’s always happy and always a ball of energy, even if it’s a late practice and we’re all exhausted.”

Sai Mupparaju ’18, who joined Raaz this year, said that Nagaraj was particularly welcoming to new members.

“From the get-go, she really helped us just integrate into the group, tried to plan events that we could all do together, and she would just always ask for our opinions, even from the beginning,” Mupparaju said. “As new members, it’s hard to kind of get your opinions and your ideas out there, but she always asked for them.”

Since Raaz is a newer group, it is still working on improving its name recognition. At first, it was hard for the group to find shows to perform in, Nagaraj said.

However, with recent performances at Relay for Life, Dimensions of Dartmouth and a performance at Raunak, Harvard University’s fall South Asian dance showcase, the group has been gaining more traction. The team has been accepted into Columbia’s Naach Nation South Asian fusion dance showcase this year, an achievement Nagaraj and the other Raaz members are particularly proud of.

Jain said that Nagaraj has worked to make Raaz more well-known by reaching out to the Dartmouth community and showcases outside of Dartmouth. She is particularly proud of the team’s acceptance into Columbia University’s Naach Nation South Asian fusion dance showcase.

“That probably would have never happened if Nivi hadn’t been excited about applying and gotten us to make this audition video,” Jain said.

The team plans to expand further by increasing their accessibility to the Dartmouth community and sharing this part of their culture. Raaz plans on implementing open practices and creating a summer program, titled “Raazberries,” in the vein of SHEBA-lite, SHEBA’s summer group, and Splendaplum, Sugarplum’s summer version.

Many of her teammates attribute this growth and outreach to Nagaraj’s leadership.

“She’s definitely a very organized person, and knows what she wants out of the team and has a good vision for it,” Gokulan said.

Nagaraj is graduating this spring with a major in biomedical engineering and plans to work in healthcare consulting with Clearview Healthcare Partners. She hopes that she can continue dancing once she graduates, perhaps by joining a dance company or just for fun.

Nagaraj noted that she would miss the ability to lead and choreograph within a dance group, something that she said is harder to find in the real world.

Quick Quotes:

Favorite TV Show: “How to Get Away with Murder” (2014)

Favorite Bollywood Movie: “Kuch Kuch Kota Hai” (1998)

Jain is a member of The Dartmouth staff.

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